Like so many other Hawaiian culinary traditions, the plate lunch is a product of the late 19th century plantation era on the islands. Backbreaking work for long hours in the fields led to the need for hearty lunches that could stand the heat, while the ethnic diversity of laborers ensured a mix of entrees that gained wider popularity as workers shared their meals. Today the plate lunch generally features a protein — perhaps Korean kalbi short ribs, kalua pig (smoky shredded pork), chicken katsu (Japanese fried chicken cutlet), or fried mahi mahi on shredded cabbage to soak up the grease — plus two scoops of rice (traditionally white) and a macaroni-mayonnaise mix known as mac salad or another side. Here are a few of our favorite places for a plate lunch on Oahu.
But wait, there’s more. We’re here to help demystify some of the unusual words you might see on menus like furikake, laulau and lilikoi — and explain which meat is being served and why. And possibly most importantly of all, provide the fun facts on the origins of local dishes.
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Oahu Plate Lunches Map
Plate Lunches on Oahu's South Shore
Offering mini plate and regular plate lunches, Alicia’s offers endless combinations for your plate. Their menu mix has gradually grown and includes their famous poke bar with up to 30 varieties of seafood and salads. Open Monday to Friday 8am to 7pm and Saturday 8am to 6pm. Closed Sunday.
Diamond Head Market and Grill
Mixed plates (protein plus rice and salad) are the staple at this all-day dining room and bakery, but you can also get most of the proteins as a simple burger or sandwich. Save room for a slice of cake from the bakery, especially chocolate haupia (coconut cream). Diamond Head Market and Grill is open daily 8am to 8pm.
Helena’s Hawaiian Food
Originally opened in 1946, the family-run Helena’s has been at its current location since 2001. The down-home vibe and hearty local-style menu can’t be beat—kalua pig, short ribs pipikaula, beef stew. The set menus are the best value, provided you’re hungry enough. Bring cash. Open Tuesday through Friday 10am to 7:30pm and would be grateful for your business.
The specialty here is the super ono plate lunch. There are plenty of selections; try the butterfish if you aren’t in the mood for meat. Pioneer Saloon has two locations, one just outside Waikiki on Monsarrat and a newer, hip location in the booming Kaka’ako neighborhood that has some great outdoor seating. Open daily from 11am to 8pm.
This place has been a local fav since 1961. With four locations, so no matter where you are on the island, you can get your plate lunch fix, including Portuguese sausage, loco moco, spam and mahi mahi. All plates come with two scoops of rice and a scoop of macaroni salad, although you can substitute for French fries and coleslaw. Rainbow Drive in is open daily 7am to 9pm.
Plate Lunches on Oahu's North Shore
Kono’s has been voted #1 Plate Lunch, Best Breakfast, Restaurant under $29 person and Best Cheap Eats on Oʻahu the last two years. Their ono-pork-inspired dishes range from breakfast bombers to plates, wraps, and salads. Open 7am to 2:30pm daily and is grateful for your business.